Food

Is There a Pastry Chef in the House?

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I’ve been tasting a lot of desserts lately that are sloppy and off-key, that don’t quite make sense, that look and taste lazy or rushed. In each case, the kitchen lacked a pastry chef.

Dessert is an essential part of a great restaurant meal, but too many kitchens in New York seem to be operating without a pastry chef.

A kitchen can make ice cream in-house all it wants, but no cook will replicate the work of a dedicated, talented pastry chef — a person who thinks of nothing else but how to send out delicious desserts, who is always working to adjust the texture, refine the flavor, strengthen the riff, or whip up a special.

Some kitchens do manage by limiting the dessert menu and working cleverly within their space and budget constraints, or by consulting with pastry chefs and carefully training their cooks. (And despite the stereotype, some savory chefs really can make good desserts.) But let’s face it, most restaurants without a pastry chef are struggling to provide the service of a proper dessert menu, and their desserts often look and taste amateur.

Do you need a reminder of why pastry chefs are crucial to a great restaurant’s team? Try the compelling dishes that Karen DeMasco serves at Locanda Verde, or the beauties Malcolm Livingston II turns out at wd-50. Visit Calliope for Shuna Fish Lydon’s seasonal desserts, pastries, and petit fours. Stop by North End Grill for a slice of Alex Ray’s glorious lemon meringue pie.

New York’s pastry chefs set such high standards — I wish more restaurants would aim to compete at their level.

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